The Little Think Tank That CouldInside the small, pro-Israel outfit leading the attack on Obama's Iran deal

This article was published in collaboration with Slate.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the so-called 800-pound gorilla, is the big player in lobbying against the nuclear weapons agreement that the United States and five other countries signed with Iran. When it comes to influencing members of Congress, AIPAC has the access to financial contributors with which to reward the compliant and pressure the recalcitrant.

But that’s not enough. Opponents of the deal, if they are to carry the day, need crisp talking points and plausible arguments; they need credible experts who will back up their position in congressional hearings, on opinion pages, and on TV and radio. And no organization has been better at providing this kind of intellectual firepower than the little-known Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a relatively small Washington think tank that is devoting itself to defeating the Iran deal.

Saudi Arabia’s Widening WarObama is trying to make peace with Iran. The new Saudi king is on the course for war.

This article was published in collaboration with POLITICO Magazine.

The level of turmoil in the Middle East is greater than at any other time in my nearly fifty years of watching this region. Amid this perfect storm comes the most dramatic shift in Saudi policy since at least World War II—marking a critical turning point in Saudi Arabia’s relations with its historical protector, the United States, and with its neighbors in the Middle East. The Saudi regime’s insistence on seeing threats to the Kingdom in fundamentally sectarian terms—Sunni vs. Shia—will put it increasingly at odds with its American patrons and could lead the Middle East into a conflict comparable to Europe’s Thirty Years War, a continent-wide civil war over religion that decimated an entire culture.

Driving the Saudi strategy is fear of Iranian regional hegemony. This wariness of Iran is nothing new, but, since the early days of the Clinton administration, Saudi Arabia has been able to rely on Washington to contain Iran. The United States surrounded Iran with its bases and troops, and imposed ever-increasing economic punishment on the Iranian revolutionary state. This policy began after the George H.W. Bush administration completed its brilliant military victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces, and as the Soviet Union was collapsing, leaving the United States as the sole military power in the Persian Gulf.

Don’t Let Iran Walk Away From the TableIf the Nov. 24 deadline isn’t met, everything could unravel

This article was published in collaboration with POLITICO Magazine.

As a November 24 deadline looms for a nuclear deal with Iran, some influential voices in Washington—including President Obama’s former Iran adviser Dennis Ross—have argued that “muddling through” without an agreement, postponing things yet again, is preferable to signing an imperfect deal. The premise of that argument—that we all still have time, and a better deal could be achieved at a later date—is almost certainly wrong. It fails to recognize that Iran and other nations would react in ways that are beyond the control of U.S. policymakers. The evidence suggests, in fact, that failure to conclude a deal now will see Iran’s position grow less accommodating, while Western leverage through sanctions will decline dramatically.

Putting off a deal yet again would, in fact, produce a perilous slide back towards crisis and confrontation.

To understand what’s at stake, it’s worth remembering both what has been gained through the past year’s negotiations as well as the consequences that followed the time the United States turned down a nuclear compromise offer from Iran.

Distrust and VerifyWhy Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s obstacles to a nuclear deal are surprisingly similar to President Obama’s

This article was published in collaboration with Slate.

The immense domestic political obstacles facing President Barack Obama as he tries to reach a nuclear deal with Iran by the Nov. 24 negotiating deadline are well documented. Less reported—but no less formidable—are the domestic political challenges facing the players on the other side of the table: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Understanding these challenges—and the related nuances of Iran’s complex political discourse—is the key to understanding Tehran’s position on the remaining sticking points in the talks, ranging from the timing of the sanctions relief Iran would get to the number of centrifuges it would be allowed to keep.

Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations last September, Zarif painted a sobering picture of the impact that failure of the current nuclear talks would have on Tehran’s foreign policy. “We started a process with the aim of changing the foreign policy environment of the country,” he said. “Now if in spite of our efforts to be accommodating, we fail, then the Iranian people have an opportunity to respond to our failure in about a year’s time.” He was referring to Iran’s parliamentary election scheduled for early 2016, and warning his New York audience that “another rebuff” to Iran’s attempt “to be open and forward-looking” could undermine political support for the redirection of the country’s foreign policy.

Would an Iranian Nuclear Deal Be Good for Human Rights?Maybe—but a breakdown in talks could usher in another brutal crackdown

This article was published in collaboration with Slate.

As Iranian and Western negotiators try to nail down a deal over Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 deadline, many in Iran’s long-suffering dissident community find themselves in an ironic position: They support a deal even though they are skeptical that it would improve their country’s human rights situation anytime soon.

This support grows less out of hope than out of fear—fear that failure to reach an agreement could have devastating consequences for human rights.

The hard-line political forces in Tehran most opposed to a nuclear compromise with the West also dominate the institutions—the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary, and various security bodies—that perpetrate the most serious rights abuses, ranging from summary executions to the detention of journalists, religious and ethnic minority activists, and Iranians with connections to the West. For most of the past decade, these hard-liners exploited times of tension with the West, such as periods when the threat of a U.S. military strike was amplified, or when Iranian nuclear scientists were being assassinated. For the hard-liners these were opportunities to crack down on regime critics, and expel them from universities, newspapers, government ministries, and city councils.

The fear among Iranian dissidents is that a breakdown in nuclear talks would prompt another wave of repression.